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This Writing Life: For Love and Money

22 August, 2012

I think it’s fair to say that in the current ‘economic climate’ (as the media and politicians keep calling this great bottomless pit we’re staring into), there are plenty of people out there – myself included – who could do with a little more cash. Writing, at least of fiction, tends not to be a particularly profitable occupation, yet in times of hardship plenty of us – again, myself included – don’t put down our metaphorical pens. We’re doing this for the love.

It’s the idea of ‘for the love’ that is consistently bandied about in writing circles. It can be a frustrating thing to hear when it’s being spouted by a best-selling, millionaire author, but at the same time there’s a great deal of truth to it. The market moves quickly; the publishing industry is slow; writing a novel and subsequently selling it might take you ten weeks, or ten years. Even when you sell a novel, there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to live off the proceeds, which makes the idea of writing for money rather than love somewhat futile.

There’s the emotional side to it, too. Writing a novel is bloody hard work – writing something you hate because you think it’s going to make you money must be excruciating, especially if it then doesn’t sell. At least if you’ve spent ten years writing unsellable novels that you love, you won’t feel like you’ve wasted your time (or not quite as much, anyway).

And yet, there are a growing number of new writers who are convinced that, with the rise of e-publishing, they can make thousands selling ebooks. It’s true that some people can, and that it’s likely the majority of these books are being written, initially, for pleasure rather than economic reasons. Still, it doesn’t take a great deal of study of the publishing industry to know that most wannabe author superstars will never make more than a few hundred dollars, and some won’t even break even.

So, writing specifically for money is probably infeasible, whilst writing for love is worthwhile but will still leave you with bills to pay. It sounds like a hopeless situation – is there any possibility of love and money colliding?

Thankfully, I think there is. For a start, I’d bet that the vast majority of traditionally published fiction was written ‘for the love’, even if the author had a contract to fulfil. Loving your characters and the story you’re telling really shines through in a book, making your voice and your world come to life in a way that readers will both identify and appreciate. There are, too, an increasing number of non-traditional outlets for authors to sell their work, from the e-publishing arms of major enterprises to high quality self-publishing (some writers are making thousands on their own, remember).

We may be a way off salaries for writers, as China Miéville espouses, but I’m still hopeful. Be it with a traditional publisher or just selling ebooks on Amazon, there are and always will be ways for good writers to make money, whilst still writing books that they – and their readers – love through and through.

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